Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

May 2008


This paper is posted at ScholarlyCommons.Penn.


Defined as "the division of public authority between two or more constitutionally defined orders of government – and a set of ideas which underpin such institutions", federalism emphasizes issues such as shared and divided sovereignty, multiple loyalties and identities, and governance through multi‐level institutions. Proponents of federalism have linked federalism with improved economic and social benefits, including increased political participation and personal liberties, efficient public and private markets, and a check on governmental power. Nevertheless, few studies have attempted to empirically prove these claims. In "Federalism's Values and Value of Federalism", Robert Inman created a multiple regression model to assess the contribution of federal governance to a country’s economic and social performance. Although Inman’s model provides an important empirical framework, his broad analysis did not incorporate the unique context and history of different countries, or explain the variation in the results. Hence, through a case‐study of six Latin American countries and analysis of key social, economic, and rights indicators, this paper seeks to answer the following research question: How does federalism affect the economic and social performance of Latin American countries? The conclusions are as follows: (1) Diffusion of political power improves rights performance and democratic accountability, of which federalism provides an important institutional framework, (2) The contribution of federalism to aggregate economic performance remains ambiguous, (3) Decentralization improves access to public goods, in both federal and unitary governments, (4) Federalism, however, potentially creates political fragmentation that may block important reforms or give rise to a power vacuum for populist leaders. As a result, rights performance, democratic accountability, and economic and social progress may stall or deteriorate.


government, latin america, economics, culture



Date Posted: 10 October 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.


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